Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Creating A Community of Theater Supporters

Community.  It's a powerful concept.  Everyone likes to be part of something, to work together towards a common goal.  But communities don't just appear out of thin air.  They have to be built and nurtured and grown.  And nobody does that better than the FSU/Asolo Conservatory program.

The enthusiasm in the room was palpable when Dorrit and I arrived at a brunch for Conservatory supporters to meet the 12 first year students. We already had a sense of the students and their personalities from the musical theater showcase earlier in the season. But this time we had a chance to get up close and personal with the students.  It was a blast.

With Danielle and Dorrit
After spending some time chatting with students and other supporters, we made our way to our table. Each table was hosted by a student, and our first year was Danielle Renella.  I was thrilled to be seated next to her so I could learn about her Conservatory experience without shouting across the table.

Having recently read about the Conservatory's stage combat workshop, one of my first questions was what the workshop was like for her.  (Danielle is a tiny thing who probably doesn't weigh 100 pounds soaking wet.)  She acknowledged it was a bit intimidating at first, especially when the guys' testosterone kicked in.  But she went with the flow, eventually settling in and accepting the instructor's excitement about having someone small in the class who could easily be thrown around.  Yikes! (Click here to read Jay Handelman's article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about the workshop.)

I learned that the students receive a stipend in exchange for the work they do on the productions put on by the second year students.  Danielle's current job is working in the costume department for "As You Like It."  The job is definitely not glamorous and involves sewing buttons and doing voluminous amounts of laundry after each show. She also helps with costume changes and told us to watch for a 15 second costume change when we saw "As You Like It" that afternoon.  (Dorrit and I nudged each other when the change took place.)

Each of the students was asked to introduce him- or herself and comment on what they've found the most challenging part of the Conservatory program to be now that they have a semester under their belts.  Here's a sampling of their responses:

--Working as an understudy for an Asolo Rep production -- without attending rehearsals.  Third year Conservatory students often act in Asolo Rep plays, with the first year students serving as their understudies.  The difficulty is that the first years have a full load, often working on three or four disciplines each day, plus working to earn their stipend.  As a result, the students memorize their lines, attend a couple of rehearsals, and hope for the best if they get the call to fill in.

--"Losing your body," learning how to breathe and having an "awake" spine -- Each of these challenges relates to learning how to find a calm, yet fluid, place from which to work.

--Learning to release into the moment without holding back, even if that means getting into emotions you might rather not focus on.

--Accepting that it's okay to fail, with the corollary challenges of trusting the process and trying not to measure your progress.

Dorrit and I loved every second of the brunch (although it was a bit exhausting to maintain that level of excitement for a couple of hours!)  I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of the Conservatory community.  I can't wait to see what's next.

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